MESA, Ariz. – It turns out that the most significant development in Friday’s game from the Dodgers’ perspective might not have been the scary one involving the best left-handed pitcher alive, but an intriguing one involving a 36-year-old left-hander scrambling hard to revive his career.
Clayton Kershaw took a soft line drive to the face and, aside from losing part of a tooth, he was fine. He eventually got back on his feet and continued a generally dominant five innings against an Oakland A’s team with most of its regulars in the lineup.
“A little scary,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly finally conceded.
It was another reminder that the Dodgers’ hopes in 2015 could revolve around their ability to keep their five starting pitchers on the mound. That’s why Barry Zito’s strong three innings for the A’s – with five strikeouts and with a fastball that, according to one scout, touched 90 mph -- might have, at least, piqued the interest of the Dodgers’ front office. Granted, Zito was facing Dodgers minor-leaguers, but Mattingly thought he looked to have regained the old bite on his once-famous curveball.
Earlier in the day, Mattingly spent part of his morning describing his level of concern about whether Hyun-Jin Ryu will open the season healthy, acknowledging Ryu’s sore shoulder probably will land him on the disabled list at the start.
For a team with a $260 million payroll and a rapidly improving farm system, the Dodgers don’t exactly have enviable starting pitching depth and Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson have all proven to be injury-prone in recent seasons. Kershaw and Zack Greinke have also spent chunks of time on the disabled list in the past two seasons.
Standing behind those five is a group that includes iffy veterans such as David Huff, Chad Gaudin and Erik Bedard and some second-tier prospects such as Joe Wieland, Zach Lee and Mike Bolsinger. Brandon Beachy is coming off Tommy John surgery and probably won’t be ready until June. The Dodgers’ best pitching prospect, Julio Urias, is already in minor-league camp and the team isn’t considering him yet as a 2015 option.
If Zito’s stuff truly is rejuvenated, he might be a serviceable option, particularly pitching in the National League.
For now, nothing has happened to set off any alarms. The Dodgers can take advantage of off-days and might only need a fifth starter once in the first three weeks of the season. Anderson and McCarthy, while they haven’t dominated here, have said their bodies feel fine. Greinke has looked good after an early bit of elbow inflammation.
But if it wasn’t obvious already, Friday drove it home: The Dodgers might want to continue to add starting pitchers until moments like Friday’s third inning are a bit less terrifying.